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The Wrong Quarry, by Max Allan Collins: exclusive excerpt

After an absence of more than two years, New York Times-bestselling author Max Allan Collins brings of his most popular characters, the ruthless professional killer known only as “Quarry,” in The Wrong Quarry. Since his debut in 1976, Quarry has appeared in 10 novels and inspired a feature film, The Last Lullaby, starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander. The new novel sees Quarry going up against an amateur killer operating on his turf. But does the hitman’s hitman have the wrong quarry in his sights?

Quarry doesn’t kill just anybody these days. He restricts himself to targeting other hitmen, availing his marked-for-death clients of two services: eliminating the killers sent after them, and finding out who hired them…and then removing that problem as well.

So far he’s rid of the world of nobody who would be missed. But this time he finds himself zeroing in on the grieving family of a missing cheerleader. Does the hitman’s hitman have the wrong quarry in his sights?

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Twenty Year Death republished as 3 period paperbacks

In 2012, Hard Case Crime published Ariel S. Winter’s first novel, The Twenty Year Death, to unprecedented acclaim. In a full-page review, the New York Times called it “extraordinary,” “ambitious” and “beautifully built,” while the UK Literary Supplement called it “undoubtedly an original tour de force,” and the Los Angeles Times wrote “It's the author's ambition that attracts… his sense of reaching beyond our expectations of what a book like this (or, really, any book) can do” before choosing it as a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize. These outstanding reviews came on the heels of advance praise from authors ranging from Stephen King and Peter Straub to Alice Sebold, John Banville, and James Frey: “Not content with writing one first novel like ordinary mortals, Ariel Winter has written three -- and in the style of some of the most famous crime writers of all time for good measure. It's a virtuoso act of literary recreation that's both astonishingly faithful and wildly, audaciously original.”

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The Grifters, by Jim Thompson

I've read a number of Jim Thompson's excellent crime noir novels, but for some reason I'd never gotten around to reading The Grifters. I saw the movie when it came out (screenplay by Donald Westlake!) and enjoyed it, so when I found the book at a free book exchange in Rio Verde, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I grabbed it. It's an extremely bleak story, but it's also enthralling.

The story focuses on Roy Dillon, a short con artist in Los Angeles. He's in his early 20s and maintains an impeccable appearance. People like him. He keeps a pair of loaded dice in his pocket to rip off drunk sailors, and he knows how to trick bartenders and shopkeepers into giving him $20 in change instead of the dime he's owed. He's amassed a small fortune this way, and he keeps a straight job as a door-to-door salesman so no one can get suspicious.

Roy's mother, Lilly, is only about 15 years older than her son, and she works for a creepy mobster who keeps her on a short leash. Roy hasn't seen his mother for years, because she was a rotten mother and Roy doesn't want anything to do with her. But when a dimestore clerk punches Roy in the gut with a sawed off baseball bat and sends him to the hospital, mother and son are reunited and the relationship takes a new turn.

That's just the beginning of this hardboiled, noir story. I was fascinated by Roy's life -- Thompson does a great job of following Roy around as he goes about his daily business, struggling with urges to drop the grifter life and become an honest man, but always falling back into his role as a short con artist. Roy's sort-of girlfriend, Moira Langrty, is just as interesting. She's a former long con artist who relies on her stunning good looks and rapidly-shrinking treasure to pay the bills. She's becoming increasingly aware that her beauty is fading, and that she needs to come up with a plan to set herself up for the rest of her life. Lilly takes an immediate dislike to Moira, and cooks up a scheme to drive her and Roy apart.

If you've seen the movie, you know how it ends, but don't let it stop you from reading the novel, because Thompson's writing is terrific.

The Grifters

Max Allan Collins on working with Mickey Spillane: essay and exclusive excerpt from long-lost Mike Hammer novel

LadygodieI grew up reading Mickey Spillane novels and, years later, was lucky enough to get to know the man behind Mike Hammer. Mickey and I did a number of projects together -- co-editing anthologies, creating the comic book Mike Danger, plus my documentary, "Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane" (1999 -- available on the Criterion DVD/Blu-ray of the great film noir, Kiss Me Deadly).

About a week before his passing, Mickey called to ask a favor. He was very ill and knew it. He was working on what would be the last Mike Hammer novel, chronologically -- The Goliath Bone, Mike taking on terrorists in post-9/11 Manhattan.

Mickey had been working hard on Goliath Bone but was afraid he wouldn't have time to finish it. If need be, would I step in? Then a few days later, he asked his wife Jane to turn over any unfinished material from his several offices to me, saying, "Max will know what to do."

All told there were half a dozen substantial Hammer manuscripts among a wealth of unpublished, unfinished material. I began with Goliath Bone, and followed with a mid-'60s novel, The Big Bang, and a '70s one, Kiss Her Goodbye.

But the most exciting discovery was the earliest of the manuscripts, brittle, yellowed pages that I had initially set aside, thinking it was a draft of the published novel, The Twisted Thing (1966).

Reading the manuscript it became clear that -- apart from having some character names and the setting in common with Twisted Thing - this was a wholly different story. This was the second Mike Hammer novel, the sequel to the famous I, the Jury. The manuscript of Lady, Go Die! dated to about 1945, in fact two years before I, the Jury was published itself.

Buy Lady, Go Die! on Amazon

Read an excerpt from Lady, Go Die!